Belfast Lord Mayor's new carriage may cost ratepayers £70,000
Belfast City Council is to splash out £70,000 of ratepayers' money on a new car for the Lord Mayor, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The sum is almost three times the price of the car that First Minister Peter Robinson is driven around in.
All 13 Stormont ministers are transported in Skoda Supremes. The fleet was purchased in 2011 for £252,000 – around £19,000 each.
No make has yet been specified for the new Lord Mayor's car, but council has stipulated that it must boast high-tech extras such as wifi and in-car entertainment facilities.
Currently, first citizen Nichola Mallon is driven in a luxury BMW 7 Series. It was bought in 2008, and council has agreed to replace it. The Belfast Telegraph understands the current car has required significant repairs, and a request has been made to find out how much work has been carried out. Both Ms Mallon and the presiding officer of the new council Deirdre Hargey get use of the car, as well as the deputies, Alliance councillor Maire Hendron and DUP councillor Ruth Patterson.
There is also a Peugeot that is used as a back-up car. Under the plan agreed by the strategic policy and resources committee last week, it will be sold and the current BMW allocated as back-up.
The committee heard that the new car "must obviously be of a type commensurate with the prestigious nature of the office of Lord Mayor". It is aimed to buy a traditional prestige saloon model.
Councillors were told that the acquisition of a high-specification car for the Lord Mayor's official use will normally involve a significant capital outlay in the order of £70,000 for outright purchase.
The option of leasing a car is also to be examined. Officials told councillors that provision had been made in the capital expenditure budgets for this procurement. Procurement is set to start in early October.
Over the years some Lord Mayors have made less use of the car than others. Last year Mairtin O Muilleoir (right) said he tried to use public transport a lot, as well as west Belfast's famous black taxi system, his bike and even jogged into work, but he also used the official car.
However, People Before Profit councillor Gerry Carroll – from the super council which currently sits in shadow form – said the proposal was "a joke".
"Why a Lord Mayor would need a £70,000 car is beyond me," he said. "In fact, I'm not even sure a case can be made for the Lord Mayor having a ratepayer-funded car at all. Haven't they heard of calling a cab or waiting on a bus?"
Mr Carroll also queried the council's approach to transport.
"Our politicians seem confused as to why ordinary people feel disenfranchised with politics," he said. "Is it any wonder? Proposals like this, along with lavish council-funded trips abroad, further detach politicians from the ordinary people they are supposed to represent.
"The council itself has promoted the cycle to work scheme, an alternative as good as any to wasting £70,000 of ratepayers' money."
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said a variety of options were being considered, including leasing and buying second-hand.
"Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee has asked for a report setting out a wide range of options so that further detailed consideration can be given to the potential replacement of the Lord Mayor's official vehicle," she said.
"A variety of vehicle specifications and makes will also be included in the options report and evaluation will be on the basis of the best value for money considering whole-life costs."